These cherries are not wine-filled bowls for thirsty birds
nor ornaments of the house where sky’s the ceiling.
These are the pawnbroker tree’s discreet sign,
the wine, tear and blood drops of bondage,
the tree’s relentless advantage
taken of the poverty that came when, warmed
with familiar memory of what had been
and had been and would be but is never known
entirely or believed until it is born,
we saw the cherry tree in flower and at once spent
a life’s rich astonishment.
‘Why should I be bound to thee?’
Blake asked of the myrtle tree. Why?
He killed to escape. Blood flowed beneath the tree:
a father’s blood, an old man’s, who must have known
how to bargain with all possession
that makes a tree, a house, a sky into a prison
and each man see the marks of chains upon his skin.
The cherry tree flowers earlier than most,
falls as snow while snow is still falling,
sweeps into us and through us and we taste
the flower as fruit, we eat the first
full-blown light unfolded out of winter darkness.
Then, as if the bloom were gone, the tree will hide
in wine-coloured shade and pawn signs to pursue its trade.
And we are prisoners then, borrowing wonder
to redeem the pledge; or too poor, too ill,
too far away to make the necessary journey,
we plead in writing for the tree’s mercy. Why
should a lifetime of marvelling be spent
on this first view of spring light, this burst of cherry snow?
Why should the tree house our treasure in blood?
When next you pass the flowering cherry now, in September,
look closely at the cool dark wine house
where the blackbirds sing for their supper
where the human senses sing for their survival.
'The Flowering Cherry', from The Pocket Mirror (W H Allen, 1967), and in Storms Will Tell: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2008), © Janet Frame Literary Trust 1967, 2008, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Ltd.
Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974.